It’s a story populated with preposterous accents, caricatures of playwrights and directors, in-jokes about the life in the theatre, and nothing like the real thing — well, maybe.
“It is pretty close,” said Steve Ross, who is playing the down-on-his-luck Max Bialystock in Neptune Theatre’s production of The Producers: A New Mel Brooks Musical.
“This whole show is a Valentine to the theatre,” he says.
“It is a Valentine, and a wink and a nod to those who might be in the know,” adds Christian Goutsis, the second part of the title-duo, Leo Bloom.
The production, which officially opens on Monday, is one of the first times a regional theatre company has produced the multiple Tony Award-winner about tow producers hoping for a theatrical doomsday.
Their plan is simple: Find the worst play ever written and the worst producer to ensure a sure-fire flop — then keep the money you’ve raised but not spent on the show.
“It is the story of these two guys, and some people have described it as a love story,” said Ross. “It starts in one direction and ends with these two really bonded guys.” Max is a theatre animal who was once good at his job but has fallen on hard times. Leo looks at producing through rose-coloured glasses — dreaming of his name in lights and dancing girls. Both actors say the magic of the show comes from Brooks’ script, which is anchored by Leo and Max’s relationship. Brooks’ then surrounds them with wacky and the eccentric, forcing the duo closer together. “Brooks is a master comedic writer,” Ross said. “By the end of the first act you have met these six fantastic characters who you live with for the rest of the play.”
That material also contains an element of absurd realism as Brooks brings out one screwball character after another. Max and Leo are odd, but nothing compared to the others. There is the worst director in New York City, Roger De Bris, his common-law assistant Carmen Ghia, the Amazonian bombshell Ulla, and the ex-Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind.
“The first half hour for us is so zany, but then we become the straight men for these even zanier characters,” Ross said. “He has this really great balance of total humour but total honesty.”